Fifty countries treat sex work as a legitimate job, and it has been legalized with restrictions in eleven others. Nevertheless sex workers are still widely stigmatized, discriminated against, harassed, and, in those countries where prostitution is considered illegal, treated as criminals. This is especially true in the United States, which is one of the few industrialized nations that continues to criminalize prostitution. As Melinda Chateauvert reveals in her new book Sex Workers Unite: A History of the Movement from Stonewall to Slutwalk, these laws have put sex workers at risk.
Chateauvert agreed recently to talk with us about Human Rights Day and how important it is that the international campaign for human rights include sex workers, who have always been key activists in the struggles for gay liberation, women’s rights, reproductive justice, labor organizing, prison abolition, and other human rights–related issues.
The first SlutWalk in Toronto (photo by Anton Bielousov)
Seven hundred workers have died in factory fires in Bangladesh since 2005, the most recent being the 112 who burned or jumped to their deaths at the Tazreen factory on November 24th. Now hundreds more bodies are being pulled from the rubble of the Rana Plaza building, in an industrial district 18 miles from Dhaka.
At Tazreen the owners didn’t build fire escapes. They’d locked the doors on the upper floors “to prevent theft,” trapping workers in the flames. At Rana Plaza, factory owners refused to evacuate the building after huge cracks appeared in the walls, even after safety engineers told them not to let workers inside.
Workers told IndustriALL union federation representatives they’d be docked three days pay for each day of an absence, and so went inside despite their worries. As a result, the death toll is already over 250 and more are still trapped under debris.
Perhaps the building codes at Rana Plaza were not enforced, and permits never even obtained, because Sohel Rana, the building’s owner, is reportedly active in Bangladesh’s ruling party, the Awami League. At Tazreen the company was cited by fire inspectors, but never forced to install safety equipment.
But Bangladesh’s development policy is based on attracting garment production by keeping costs among the world’s lowest. Safe buildings that don’t collapse or trap workers in fires raise those costs. So do wages that might rise above Bangladesh’s 21¢/hour—not a livable wage there or anywhere else.
The beneficiaries of those costs are the big brands whose clothes are sewn by the women in those factories. They give production contracts to the factories that make the lowest bids. Factories then compete to cut costs any way they can.
Tazreen made clothes for Wal-Mart, among other big brands. The Rana Plaza building held several factories where 2500 women churned out garments. According to the International Labor Rights Forum, “one of the factories in the Rana complex, Ether-Tex, had listed Walmart-Canada as a buyer on their website.” Labor activists found other documents in the rubble listing cutting orders from Benetton and other labels.
Workers have been trying for years to organize militant unions to raise wages and enforce safety codes. If they’d been successful, they would have had the power to make the factories safe. The morning after the Rana collapse, 20,000 poured out of neighboring factories in protest—other factory owners had ordered them to keep working as though nothing had happened.
Meanwhile, the giant companies controlling the industry insulate themselves from responsibility for the conditions they create. And their most important accomplice is the corporate social responsibility industry.
According to a report just released by the AFL-CIO, Responsibility Outsourced, just before a fire at the Ali Enterprises factory in Pakistan killed 262 workers in 2012, clothing manufacturers hired an auditing firm, Social Accountability International, to certify it was safe. SAI then subcontracted inspection to an Italian firm, RINA, which subcontracted it yet again to a local firm RI&CA. Ali Enterprises was certified that August. “Nearly 300 workers died in a fire two weeks after,” the report charges.
Certifying factories that kill workers has become an $80 billion industry that “helped keep wages low and working conditions poor, [while] it provided public relations cover for producers,” Responsibility Outsourced says. “Manufacturing work has left countries in which there were laws, collective bargaining and other systems in place to reduce workplace dangers,” it says, while “jobs instead have gone to countries with inadequate laws, weak enforcement and precarious employment relationships.”
This transfer was enabled by corporate-friendly trade agreements guaranteeing the products of these factories unfettered access to U.S. and European markets. They simultaneously put pressure on developing countries to guarantee the rights of foreign corporate investors and an environment of low wages, lax enforcement of worker protections, and attacks on unions.
In Bangladesh, after the Tazreen fire, a binding agreement was developed by IndustriALL, the ILRC and other labor NGOs, that seeks to prevent fires and increase safety by guaranteeing workers’ right to organize and enforce better conditions. Some companies, including PVH and Tchibo have signed on. Wal-Mart and Sears, however, not only refused, but would not even pay compensation to the Tazreen fire victims.
As Bangladesh workers pull the bodies of their friends from ruin of Rana Plaza, people half a world away wearing the clothes they sew should not turn their faces away. They need real knowledge about how their shirts and blouses are produced, and who produces them. Rather than the image manipulation of Social Accountability International and its competitor, the Fair Labor Association, they should demand the truth, and then use their power as consumers.
They should drive companies guilty of industrial homicide out of the world’s markets.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted on December 10th, 1948. To honor Human Rights Day, we've collected a selection of Beacon Press titles that explore the issues of Human Rights from a diverse perspective. Order any of these books at Beacon.org using the code GIFT20 and receive 20% off, free shipping, and Beacon Press will donate 15% of proceeds to help schools affected by Hurricane Sandy. Get the full details here.
Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl's theory-known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos ("meaning")-holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.
At the time of Frankl's death in 1997, Man's Search for Meaning had sold more than 10 million copies in twenty-four languages. A 1991 reader survey for the Library of Congress that asked readers to name a "book that made a difference in your life" found Man's Search for Meaning among the ten most influential books in America.
"One of the great books of our time." —Harold S. Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People
"One of the outstanding contributions to psychological thought in the last fifty years." —Carl R. Rogers (1959)
For the last decade, Margaret Regan has reported on the escalating chaos along the Arizona-Mexico border, ground zero for immigration since 2000. Undocumented migrants cross into Arizona in overwhelming numbers, a state whose anti-immigrant laws are the most stringent in the nation. And Arizona has the highest number of migrant deaths. Fourteen-year-old Josseline, a young girl from El Salvador who was left to die alone on the migrant trail, was just one of thousands to perish in its deserts and mountains.
With a sweeping perspective and vivid on-the-ground reportage, Regan tells the stories of the people caught up in this international tragedy. Traveling back and forth across the border, she visits migrants stranded in Mexican shelters and rides shotgun with Border Patrol agents in Arizona, hiking with them for hours in the scorching desert; she camps out in the thorny wilderness with No More Deaths activists and meets with angry ranchers and vigilantes. Using Arizona as a microcosm, Regan explores a host of urgent issues: the border militarization that threatens the rights of U.S. citizens, the environmental damage wrought by the border wall, the desperation that compels migrants to come north, and the human tragedy of the unidentified dead in Arizona's morgues.
A groundbreaking work that turns a “queer eye” on the criminal legal system, Queer (In)Justice is a searing examination of queer experiences—as “suspects,” defendants, prisoners, and survivors of crime. The authors unpack queer criminal archetypes—like “gleeful gay killers,” “lethal lesbians,” “disease spreaders,” and “deceptive gender benders”—to illustrate the punishment of queer expression, regardless of whether a crime was ever committed. Tracing stories from the streets to the bench to behind prison bars, they prove that the policing of sex and gender both bolsters and reinforces racial and gender inequalities.
“Queer (In)Justice ought to be force-fed to the staffs and boards of directors of every national and state gay organization in the hope that it might open their eyes to a reality they too often deliberately ignore. . . . It’s that important.”—Doug Ireland, Gay City News
“A vivid account of how the law in the United States has his?torically treated LGBT people as criminals and, startlingly, the degree to which for?mal decriminalization of gay sex has failed to remove the criminal taint from queer sexuality and expression . . . Mandatory reading.”—Lesbian/Gay Law Notes
Sierra Leone, Kosovo, East Timor, the Bronx. The nightly news brings vivid images into our homes of the mistreatment of people all over the world. In the secure comfort of our living rooms, we may feel sympathetic to the victims of these atrocities but far removed from them. "What does all this have to do with a person in east Tennessee?" is the question, from a radio program host, that prompted William Schulz to write this book.
Schulz provides answers with an insightful work, generously laced with compelling stories of women and men from all continents, which clearly delineates the connection between our prosperity here in the United States and human rights violations throughout the globe. The book reveals the high cost of indifference not only in ethical and moral terms, but in terms of the political, economic, environmental and public health consequences in our own backyards.
Consider, for example, the high cost to U.S. military personnel and their families of radical political instability in the Balkans-costs that might well have been avoided if the United States and the international community had conscientiously defended human rights. Or the devastating economic impact on U.S. businesses of systemic corruption in Asia. Or the serious environmental hazards of nuclear fuel leaks in Russia, the spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis, and the expensive dangers of inhumane prison conditions in the United States, to name just a few examples. At the heart of each of these problems lies the abuse of basic human rights.
Through the stories of Natasa Kandic and Alexander Nikitin, of Samia Sarwar and Han Dongfang, of Jaime Garzon and Sister Dianna Ortiz, Schulz introduces us to the front line of the international battle for rights and builds a powerful case for defending our own interests by vigorously defending the human rights of people everywhere.
"If any foreign policy primer could be called a page-turner, it is this one by the executive director of Amnesty International USA. What the human rights community needs to do, argues Schulz in this well-written clarion call, is find 'the compelling reasons why respect for human rights is in the best interests of the United States.' . . . Schulz has written a clear and provocative book that should be read by all concerned with human rights and U.S. foreign policy and will draw new supporters among the general public." -Publishers Weekly, starred review
David Chura taught high school in a New York county penitentiary for ten years-five days a week, seven hours a day. In these pages, he gives a face to a population regularly demonized and reduced to statistics by the mainstream media. Through language marked by both the grit of the street and the expansiveness of poetry, the stories of these young people break down the divisions we so easily erect between us and them, the keepers and the kept-and call into question the increasing practice of sentencing juveniles as adults.
"Riveting . . . An indictment of the system."-Sam Roberts, New York Times
"As U.S. courts send more than 250,000 minors each year into adult prisons (according to a 2008 Juvenile Justice report), Chura's anguished, incisive depiction of one of those outposts is . . . a compelling call to repair our society's brokenness."-Cathi Dunn MacRae, Youth Today
"In its many twists and turns, the book discovers in the prison labyrinth a metaphor of the confinements and refuges of the human spirit. In the face of every person he so carefully depicts, the author shows us a mirror."-David Kaczynski, Times Union
"[Chura] recalls the raw, gritty emotions of young men with little education and few options. . . . A compelling personal look at the failings of the juvenile justice system."-Booklist
Jennifer Harbury's investigation into torture began when her husband disappeared in Guatemala in 1992; she told the story of his torture and murder in Searching for Everardo. For over a decade since, Harbury has used her formidable legal, research, and organizing skills to press for the U.S. government's disclosure of America's involvement in harrowing abuses in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. A draft of this book had just been completed when the first photos from Abu Ghraib were published; tragically, many of Harbury's deepest fears about America's own abuses were graphically confirmed by those horrific images.
This urgently needed book offers both well-documented evidence of the CIA's continuous involvement in torture tactics since the 1970s and moving personal testimony from many of the victims. Most important, Harbury provides solid, convincing arguments against the use of torture in any circumstances: not only because it is completely inconsistent with all the basic values Americans hold dear, but also because it has repeatedly proved to be ineffective: Again and again,'information' obtained through these gruesome tactics proves unreliable or false. Worse, the use of torture by U.S. client states, allies, and even by our own operatives, endangers our citizens and especially our troops deployed internationally.
"The word "torture" has always brought to mind the Gestapo, or the gulag. Jennifer Harbury shocks us as she confronts us with our own nation's record of torture and brutality, from Latin America to Vietnam to Iraq. She tells the story of her husband's disappearance, torture, and murder in Guatemala, but also presents the testimonies of other torture victims, with the C.I.A. a shadowy, ominous presence. Their stories make us feel shame at the betrayal of our most cherished values, but Harbury is undaunted, believing we must expose the truth and demand that our government not respond to the terrorism of 9-11 with the terrorism of the secret torture chamber." -- Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States
"A few bad apples? A small group of undisciplined soldiers? Read this harrowing, courageous book and you will discover that the torments of Abu Ghraib are deeply and systematically rooted in a poisonous American past." -- Ariel Dorfman, author of Other Septembers, Many Americas
"Bully for this brave woman who, despite her personal tragedy, takes democracy more seriously than its alleged protectors. She is a patriot to put the pundits to shame." -- Eric Alterman, The Nation
During the second Palestinian intifada, Philip C. Winslow worked in the West Bank with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), driving up to 600 miles a week in the occupied territory. He returned to the region in 2006. In this book, Winslow captures the daily struggles, desperation, and anger of Palestinians; the hostility of settlers; the complex responses of Israeli soldiers, officials, and peace activists; and even the breathtaking beauty of nature in this embattled place.
"[Winslow] writes in a gentle tone about the constant brutalizing and inhumane quality of the Israeli occupation, the administration of checkpoints, and attempts to crush the Palestinian community and economy. He doesn't consider the political positions of either side but blames both for ignoring the repercussions of their actions, on their enemy and on themselves. Winslow's sensitivity and strong writing make this an important volume." —Library Journal
"Foreign correspondent Winslow depicts the universal cost of Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands in excruciatingly human terms . . . The multilayered narrative demonstrates unusual compassion for the human side of the conflict, sympathizing with both the Palestinian citizens and the Israeli soldiers in the clear understanding that the latter, too, are dehumanized by the violence that surrounds them." —Publishers Weekly, starred review
When David Dow took his first capital case, he supported the death penalty. He changed his position as the men on death row became real people to him, and as he came to witness the profound injustices they endured: from coerced confessions to disconcertingly incompetent lawyers; from racist juries and backward judges to a highly arbitrary death penalty system.
It is these concrete accounts of the people Dow has known and represented that prove the death penalty is consistently unjust, and it's precisely this fundamental-and lethal-injustice, Dow argues, that should compel us to abandon the system altogether.
"An honorably dispassionate and logical broadside against a shameful practice." —Kirkus Reviews
"Dow reveals the dirty little secret of American death-penalty litigation: procedure trumps innocence . . . [His book] is insightful and full of the kinds of revelations that may lead readers to reconsider their stand on the death penalty." —Steve Mills, Chicago Tribune
"Dow's book leaves all else behind. It is powerful, direct, informative, and told in compelling human terms. He makes us see that the issue is not sentiment or retribution or even innocence. It is justice." —Anthony Lewis, Pulitzer Prize-winning former columnist for the New York Times
Margaret Regan's The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona Borderlands has been praised as, "A keen-eyed perspective of how questionable public policy has resulted in far too much preventable loss of life," (Midwest Book Review) and, "A humane, sensitive, and informative perspective on a current and controversial topic" (Ana Castillo, author of The Guardians).
The book has been chosen as this year's Common Read by the Unitarian-Universalist Association, and a reader's guide is available on Beacon.org. Read an excerpt below or at Scribd and get talking about the human stories behind the contentious issue of undocumented immigration.
You can also read these previous posts at Beacon Broadside by author Margaret Regan, or browse all of our posts on immigration.
In San Francisco and Oakland, immigrants and community activists protested Arizona's SB 1070, which would require police and local law enforcement to check the immigration status of people they suspect might be undocumented, on the day the law took effect. A day earlier Federal Judge Susan Bolton invalidated much of the law, but demonstrations involving thousands of people took place against the law around the country nevertheless.
In San Francisco demonstrators also protested cooperation between police and immigration agents in arresting people for deportation, in front of the office of California Attorney General Jerry Brown. Brown, a candidate for governor, ruled that San Francisco could not opt out of the Secure Communities program, which mandates such cooperation and would invalidate San Francisco's sanctuary city ordinance. Protestors then went into Brown's office and told one of his assistants about their objections to his action.
Renee Saucedo, an attorney with La Raza Centro Legal and a leader of the protestors, said: "It's no coincidence that Arizona has this outrageous law, because all the proposals from Washington on immigration reform encourage the same criminalization, racial profiling and discrimination. Immigrant communities are demanding an end to these policies and laws, including "Secure Communities" and "E-Verify." We deserve a new direction from Washington, with real change, including legalization and workers' rights."
Robert Krentz was a modern cowboy. When he patrolled his ranch northeast of Douglas, he rode an ATV, not a horse. No matter. A rancher was a rancher and Krentz's family had run cattle on this 35,000-spread since 1907. Krentz had been trying to restore the parched land, and his innovative water system helped convert a portion of it into a wildlife habitat. In 2008, just after its 100th anniversary, the Krentz ranch was inducted into the Arizona Ranching Hall of Fame.
Krentz was a big man, tall and heavy, and, at fifty-eight, prematurely snowy-haired. He was known as a gentle giant, given to helping out needy border crossers in this heavily traveled migrant corridor. They walked his land regularly, and once his house had been broken into.
"If they come in and ask for water, I'll still give them water," he told a PBS interviewer back in 1999. "That's just my nature."
Saturday, March 27, 2010, was a cool day for early spring, only 50 degrees or so. Krentz rumbled out on his ATV to check his water lines, his dog trotting along beside him. There'd been some trouble lately in these rural Cochise County grasslands. Residents blamed migrants for a rash of home robberies. And the day before, Krentz's brother Phil had spotted some drug mules on their ranch and called the Border Patrol; agents arrested eight undocumented immigrants and picked up nearly 300 pounds of marijuana.
At some point Saturday, Rob radioed into Phil; over the crackly airwaves Phil heard the words "illegal alien."
That was the last time Rob Krentz's family heard from him. Hours later, his body was found out on his ranch, still on his ATV. He'd been shot multiple times; his dog lay wounded beside him.
The death of Robert Krentz changed the conversation about immigration in the United States. The killing made national and even international news. The county sheriff pleaded for calm, noting that the murder was unsolved (it remained unsolved as of July 2010), but that didn't stop anti-immigrant groups from asserting flatly that Krentz had been shot in cold blood by an undocumented immigrant, or felled by a Mexican drug dealer. Angry citizens around the country demanded that the federal government take action.
In early March I spoke about immigration rights in a colleague's class at Salem State. "We can't be expected to take care of all the world's needy people," one student protested. "If we let in everybody who wanted to come, we couldn't maintain our standard of living here."
A week later I was on the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales, collecting testimonies from migrants who had been captured in the Arizona desert and deported back across the border. Dazed, exhausted and dehydrated, they hobbled on raw, blistered feet and clutched small plastic bags stamped "Homeland Security" that held all of their worldly possessions. Although my supposed task was to document abuses by the U.S. border patrol, most migrants had more pressing hopes when I approached them. "Can you help me get in? Could you adopt me?"
The student's words haunted me just as the mass of dispossessed humanity haunted me, just as the barbed-wire-topped wall that slices in half the city of Nogales haunted me, during the week I spent there.
Today's post is an excerpt from Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? by Martin Luther King, Jr. The last book written by Dr. King, it is one of the first, along with Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, to be released by Beacon Press as part of The King Legacy Series. In this prophetic work, which has been unavailable for more than ten years, he lays out his thoughts, plans, and dreams for America's future, including the need for better jobs, higher wages, decent housing, and quality education. With a universal message of hope that continues to resonate, King demanded an end to global suffering, asserting that humankind-for the first time-has the resources and technology to eradicate poverty.
Some years ago a famous novelist died. Among his papers was found a list of suggested plots for future stories, the most prominently underscored being this one: "A widely separated family inherits a house in which they have to live together." This is the great new problem of mankind. We have inherited a large house, a great "world house" in which we have to live together-- black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu-- a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.
However deeply American Negroes are caught in the struggle to be at last at home in our homeland of the United States, we cannot ignore the larger world house in which we are also dwellers. Equality with whites will not solve the problems of either whites or Negroes if it means equality in a world society stricken by poverty and in a universe doomed to extinction by war.
All inhabitants of the globe are now neighbors. This worldwide neighborhood has been brought into being largely as a result of the modern scientific and technological revolutions. The world of today is vastly different from the world of just one hundred years ago. A century ago Thomas Edison had not yet invented the incandescent lamp to bring light to many dark places of the earth. The Wright brothers had not yet invented that fascinating mechanical bird that would spread its gigantic wings across the skies and soon dwarf distance and place time in the service of man. Einstein had not yet challenged an axiom and the theory of relativity had not yet been posited.
Human beings, searching a century ago as now for better understanding, had no television, no radios, no telephones and no motion pictures through which to communicate. Medical science had not yet discovered the wonder drugs to end many dread plagues and diseases. One hundred years ago military men had not yet developed the terrifying weapons of warfare that we know today-- not the bomber, an airborne fortress raining down death; nor napalm, that burner of all things and flesh in its path. A century ago there were no sky-scraping buildings to kiss the stars and no gargantuan bridges to span the waters. Science had not yet peered into the unfathomable ranges of interstellar space, nor had it penetrated oceanic depths. All these new inventions, these new ideas, these sometimes fascinating and sometimes frightening developments, came later. Most of them have come within the past sixty years, sometimes with agonizing slowness, more characteristically with bewildering speed, but always with enormous significance for our future.
There are 109 inmates serving life sentences without parole for non-homicide crimes they committed when they were 18 or younger. Some, put behind bars when they were 13 or 14, have been locked up for twenty or thirty years.
Those 109-- minors then, adults now in their prime, or at least they should be, if they weren't facing a slow, cruel death in jail-- are a part of something that is uniquely American. According to Amnesty International, the United States is the only country that imprisons children for life (the same country, the PEW Charitable Trust reported in 2008, that now incarcerates one out of every one hundred of its citizens).
This year the United States Supreme Court has agreed to consider two of those 109 cases. One involves a man who, at the age of 13, robbed and raped an elderly woman in 1989; the other was 16 when he took part in two break-ins in 2005. Each was sentenced by a Florida court to life without parole. The high court must decide whether such life imprisonment is "cruel and unusual punishment."
There are over 50 groups filing in support of these two inmates. It's a roll call of religious, legal, correctional, educational, medical and psychological professionals. As varied as the groups are, there's not much difference in their reasoning. All the briefs, whether based on spiritual belief or scientific research, come down to the same thing, to something that seems obvious to me: children change, develop, are redeemable; children are vulnerable to immense forces in their lives, forces that they can't control but sometimes act out of.
It seems like a lot of effort for two people (or 109, depending upon how you look at it) who, when they were young, did some pretty terrible things. But those hundreds of professionals and concerned citizens know that if we don't stop it now, there'll be a lot more than 109 kids facing the same fate, given the country's mood when it comes to kids and crime. It is a mood that was set into motion in the mid-1990s when some political scientists warned the public of the impending threat of young "super-predators," and so the jihad on juvenile crime began.
In occupied East Jerusalem just north of the Old City, the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah for years has been the crucible of the struggle by radical Jewish settlers to “Judaize” Jerusalem, as the common term goes. As a word, “Judaize” is slightly less cumbersome than “de-Palestinianize” (the latter is my term), but the intent and the effects are the same.
Although settlers’ organizations, facilitated in various ways by Israeli governments and protected by the security forces, routinely have taken over Palestinian property in other parts of East Jerusalem and in the West Bank, the symbolic heart of the struggle is here, for ownership or enforced control of the old stone homes on Sheikh Jarrah’s tree-lined streets.
On August 2, following an Israeli court decision, 53 Palestinian men, women and children were evicted from their homes in a nighttime raid. The Palestinians are classed as refugees who lost their homes in 1948. Shortly after the families and their furniture were on the street, security forces ushered Jewish settlers into the homes. A friend of mine and long-time Jerusalem resident said: “It was one of the worst things I witnessed in all my years here. It was bad enough kicking out women and children from their homes, but heavily armed police escorting settlers into the homes within half an hour in front of the distraught families, and obviously proud of their actions – that was really something.”
If you have a strong stomach, you can watch the evictions and the aftermath in this series of videos, after the jump.
Author Farnoosh Moshiri was born in a literary family in Tehran, Iran. She holds a B.A. in dramatic literature from the College of Dramatic Arts in Tehran, an M.A. in drama from the University of Iowa and an M.F.A in creative writing from the University of Houston. Her novel The Bathhouse is the story of a young woman arrested and detained during the fundamentalist revolution in Iran.
"It's happening and I'm not there," I embrace my belly, as if having unbearable cramps of a miscarriage. I hold back tears and move back and forth like a mother on her child's grave. On the TV screen Iranian youth chant, demanding justice. The election has been a fraud and they want re-counting of the votes. They want their elected president, not the little dictator, the puppet of the old despot, the "Absolutist Ayatollah." They march peacefully, some with tapes over their mouths, meaning they are quiet, all wearing green shirts, waistbands, or bandanas, holding flags and banners, arms up, showing V signs. They are millions—men and women, boys and girls, children, babies, sitting on the shoulders of fathers, green ribbons decorating the crown of their fluffy hair. It's a massive demonstration, a reminder of 1979, when I was one of them and we fought for a republic—not an Islamic one. This was before the West aimed the spotlight on Khomeini and he was shipped from Paris with his entourage and the people's revolution was hijacked.
I watch all this, remember my youth, sway like a pendulum, and swallow my tears. But suddenly men in black shirts attack the green sea of the peaceful rally and blood covers the streets of Tehran. Cell phones capture the clubbing and stabbing. Someone's camera records the shooting of a girl. I watch with disbelief. Blood gushes out of the girl's chest, a young man presses his hand over the wound to stop it, an old man screams, "They killed her! They killed my daughter!"
After this scene, I experience a turmoil unlike any emotional crisis in my life. Anger, sorrow, and the worst—guilt and self-hatred overcome me. I sob for a moment, then I shout at my husband, "Haven't I been telling you? Haven't I been writing for years that this is a fascist regime? Haven't I? So why has no one believed me? No one ever believed me! I was right! They are fascists. Look! They're killing our children!"
He rubs my shoulder to calm me down and gently reminds me that no one has ever rejected my books; no one has ever defended this regime.
But this does not help. I'm out of my mind. I contradict myself: "I haven't done anything! Nothing!" I weep. "I escaped and they are getting killed--"
With each new image, each YouTube film clip of beatings and stabbings of innocent people, I go through another wave of rage and sorrow, guilt and self-bashing. I mumble incoherently between tears—either insisting that I'd been right writing against this regime, or lamenting that I haven't done enough.
Have I been suffering from PTSD and have never been diagnosed? Am I remembering the Revolution, my forced exile, the execution of my comrades after I crossed the border, my father's arrest and beating and his subsequent blindness and stroke? Am I remembering the harsh life of the refugee camp in war-infested Afghanistan? Am I remembering everything at once and experiencing a breakdown?
And why such back breaking guilt, such self-condemnation?
"I want to be there!" I demand childishly. "I want to be shot, get beaten up, clubbed, killed! Why am I here?"
Ever since Barack Obama's inauguration in January, there's been talk of a looming policy confrontation with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who took office in March, over Israel's settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Headlines like "U.S., Israel square off over settlement expansion" boosted hopes or worries (depending on one's viewpoint) that the U.S. would use its considerable leverage to crack down on the continuing growth of the settlements, which are illegal under international law. At the first hint that Washington might do so, inflammatory posters popped up all over the West Bank (see this photo).
And after Obama's speech in Cairo on June 4, when he called for the settlements to stop, it seemed that the two leaders indeed were headed for a showdown over the most contentious issue in the Middle East.
Partly in response to Obama's address, a major policy speech by Netanyahu was promised. It came on June 14, struggled for lift and landed with a dull thud. "In my vision of peace, in this small land of ours, two peoples live freely, side-by-side, in amity and mutual respect," Netanyahu said. "Each will have its own flag, its own national anthem, its own government. Neither will threaten the security or survival of the other."
Some commentators made much of Netanyahu's use, for the first time ever, of the words "Palestinian state." The phrases the prime minister actually used were "armed Palestinian state" and "demilitarized Palestinian state," and pointed only to a future territory without an army, without control of its airspace, and one that provides "ironclad" security guarantees for Israel. The speech offered nothing new, and was breathtakingly ungracious to the Palestinians.
It's the great taboo, I hear many environmentalists say. Population growth is the driving force behind our wrecking of the planet, but we are afraid to discuss it.
It sounds like a no-brainer. More people must inevitably be bad for the environment, taking more resources and causing more pollution, driving the planet ever farther beyond its carrying capacity. But hold on. This is a terribly convenient argument-- "over-consumers" in rich countries can blame "over-breeders" in distant lands for the state of the planet. But what are the facts?
The world's population quadrupled to six billion people during the 20th century. It is still rising and may reach 9 billion by 2050. Yet for at least the past century, rising per-capita incomes have outstripped the rising head count several times over. And while incomes don't translate precisely into increased resource use and pollution, the correlation is distressingly strong.
Moreover, most of the extra consumption has been in rich countries that have long since given up adding substantial numbers to their population.
By almost any measure, a small proportion of the world's people take the majority of the world's resources and produce the majority of its pollution. Take carbon dioxide emissions-- a measure of our impact on climate but also a surrogate for fossil fuel consumption. Stephen Pacala, director of the Princeton Environment Institute, calculates that the world's richest half-billion people-- that's about 7 percent of the global population-- are responsible for 50 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. Meanwhile the poorest 50 percent are responsible for just 7 percent of emissions.
Although overconsumption has a profound effect on greenhouse gas emissions, the impacts of our high standard of living extend beyond turning up the temperature of the planet. For a wider perspective of humanity's effects on the planet's life support systems, the best available measure is the "ecological footprint," which estimates the area of land required to provide each of us with food, clothing, and other resources, as well as to soak up our pollution. This analysis has its methodological problems, but its comparisons between nations are firm enough to be useful.
Ten years ago this spring an historic international treaty came into force banning antipersonnel land mines. Although the U.S. has not joined the 156 nations who ratified the treaty, American forces have not used antipersonnel mines since 1992, and have destroyed three million stockpiled mines; call it a reluctant phasing out of an indiscriminate weapon that U.S. forces have used since the Civil War.
Now a world movement to ban cluster weapons is gathering pace. It’s possible that this time around the U.S., which has not used cluster munitions since 2003 in Iraq, will join, helping make the weapons and their explosive sub-munitions a military artifact. So far 96 nations have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) and seven have ratified it. The treaty will enter into force on the thirtieth ratification.
Civilian deaths and disabilities from antipersonnel mines have been well documented. The unnecessary suffering and a persistent international campaign brought about the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, also known as the Ottawa Treaty. Cluster munitions casualties are less well known, in part because the weapons have been used in fewer countries, about 30. But where they have been used, the terrible wounds and denial of land access have led arms control experts, doctors and civil society groups, under the umbrella of the Cluster Munition Coalition, to demand that this weapon be added to the list of prohibited weapons along with antipersonnel mines, dum-dum bullets, poison gas and blinding lasers.
Although antipersonnel mines and cluster munitions are in different military categories, they have one thing in common: catastrophic results for the civilians who come across them. America’s massive bombing of Laos from 1964 to 1973 still claims casualties today. One is Ta Douangchom. “I was living in a village called Ka Oy . . . in southern Laos. I was a farmer. One day, I was 28 years old at the time, I went out with my two sons to look for food and found a strange object. It looked green.” You can read the rest of Ta’s story here.
Today's post is from Tom Hallock, Associate Publisher at Beacon Press.
The Indie Bound Red Box, The American Bookseller Association’s monthly In-store Action Kit, contained a flyer this month for a remarkable idea: Genocide Prevention Month. The ABA is teaming up with Genocide Prevention Month, a group of survivors and survivor advocates “to make sure history does not repeat itself.” Mitch Kaplan (owner of Books and Books in Coral Gables Florida), writing for the program, described his store's efforts to hold a commemoration event with genocide survivors in April and to organize a table display of books about genocide. A list of notable titles compiled by the ABA is available at www.bookweb.org/files/open/pdf/genocideprevention.pdf. The list includes general titles about genocide and others about Armenia, Bosnia, Cambodia, Darfur, Rwanda and the Holocaust.
Perhaps what's most remarkable is the underlying idea that independent booksellers have the power to bring a global concern to the attention of their communities-- and to create the kind of awareness that might help prevent such things from happening again. When I taught English in Beijing China fifteen years ago, I met an extraordinary pair of booksellers who were survivors of the Cultural Revolution. They had been branded rightists, sent to prison and, when they were released, opened a bookstore. It was their response to the chaos that had engulfed their lives. They wanted to create a space in which Chinese readers could find books about the world and create a new culture in which such a destructive mass movement could never again take root. They called the store San Wei, three flavors, a term used in the Qing dynasty to identify the three most important categories of books: history, poetry, and philosophy.
I thought it was a powerful and appropriate response. Genocide Prevention Month is a chance for all of us, as writers, publishers and booksellers, to exercise this same kind of power. It’s a chance to bring change to the world in one of the oldest ways-- by the sharing of stories.
Today's post is from Garry Leech, author of Beyond Bogota: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia. Leech is an independent journalist and editor of Colombia Journal. For the past eight years his work has primarily focused on the US war on drugs and Colombia's civil conflict. He is the author of several books including Crude Interventions: The United States, Oil and the New World (Dis)Order (Zed Books, 2006) and Killing Peace: Colombia's Conflict and the Failure of US Intervention (Inota, 2002). He also teaches international politics at Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia, Canada.
In the final presidential debate, the South American country of Colombia briefly became a central theme in the U.S. election campaign, not so much because of its infamous history of drug trafficking and civil conflict, but because of international economic policies. In November of 2006, the Bush administration signed a free trade agreement with the Colombian government. However, its ratification in Congress has been stalled because many Democrats oppose the pact on human rights grounds. During the debate, Republican candidate John McCain decided to take the offensive against his opponent Barack Obama by attacking the Democratic candidate's opposition to the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement. The arguments presented by each candidate are telling with regard to the degree of difference between the two of them on international economic issues.
In the debate, McCain repeatedly made Colombia a topic of discussion. In fact, as Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker put it, McCain appeared to have a "strange preoccupation" with the South American country. In actuality, McCain was preoccupied with suggesting that Obama's opposition to the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement exemplified the Democratic senator's protectionist tendencies and that such an economic approach would be bad for Americans. "I just recited to you the benefits of concluding that agreement, a billion dollars of American dollars that could have gone to creating jobs and businesses in the United States, opening up those markets," McCain argued.
Obama responded by suggesting that the United States should ensure such agreements contain adequate human rights and environmental protections, particularly in the case of Colombia where more unionists are killed each year than in the rest of the world. "We have to stand for human rights and we have to make sure that violence isn't being perpetrated against workers who are just trying to organize for their rights," Obama declared, suggesting that human rights trump U.S. trade interests.
Not surprisingly, McCain's position on free trade agreements is consistent with that of President George W. Bush, who again urged Congress to ratify the U.S-Colombia pact the day after the debate. McCain, like the Bush administration and many other Republicans, advocates the expansion of the neoliberal, or "free market," global economic order that has been established over the past quarter century. But is Obama's position markedly different?
For some, these events may mean that those weekly strolls down the tastefully lit aisles of Whole Foods now become monthly. For those who have naturally spurned such discount pariahs as Wal-Mart, second thoughts may be in order.
But for another class of American shoppers, rising food prices, whether organic or conventional, is just another bump in the road on an already trying journey. I’m speaking of low-income families, and increasingly low-to-middle income families who now find themselves treading closer to the lower end of the income spectrum.
“I believe the only way for Dark Horse to ensure compliance under the
statute would be to refrain from publishing this material entirely,” He
said. “Attempting to determine, book by book, what may fall under the
purview of the satute, including whether there are any ‘sexually
explicit’ portions and if so whether such portions ‘serve some purpose
other than titillation’ (even if I knew what that meant) is totally
impractical, unduly burdensome and surely would result in our
Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don't think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the "wrong kind of person" for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.
In 2006, Mexico experienced profound social turmoil. Dramatic political and economic conflicts uprooted and displaced thousands of families, forcing many to consider leaving home. Teachers struck in Oaxaca, and after their demonstrations were tear-gassed, a virtual insurrection paralyzed the state capitol for months. Economic desperation lies at the root of these political and social movements — one major basis of the pressure on people to migrate north. But repression brought to bear on those movements also leads to migration. It's no accident that Oaxaca is one of the main starting points for the current stream of Mexican migrants coming to the U.S.
About 30 million Mexicans survive on less than 30 pesos a day — not quite $3. The minimum wage is 53 pesos a day. The federal government estimates that 37.7% of Mexico’s 106 million citizens — 40 million people — live in poverty. Some 25 million, or 23.6%, live in extreme poverty. In rural Mexico, over ten million people have a daily income of less than 12 pesos — a little over a dollar. In the southern state of Oaxaca that category of extreme poverty encompasses 75% of its 3.4 million residents, according to EDUCA, an education and development organization. That makes Oaxaca the second-poorest state in Mexico, after Chiapas.
The majority of Oaxacans are indigenous people — that is, they belong to communities and ethnic groups that existed long before Columbus landed in the Caribbean. Oaxacans speak 23 different languages, and among Mexican states, Oaxaca has the second-highest concentration of indigenous residents. Thousands of indigenous people leave Oaxaca's hillside villages for the United States every year. They leave, not only for economic reasons, but also because a repressive political system thwarts the kind of economic development that could lift income in the poorest rural areas. Lack of development pushes people off the land. And as they find their way to other parts of Mexico or the United States, the money they send home becomes crucial to the survival of the towns they leave behind.
"Migration is a necessity, not a choice," explained Romualdo Juan Gutierrez Cortez, a teacher in Santiago Juxtlahuaca, in Oaxaca's rural Mixteca region. "There is no work here. It is a very daunting task for a Mexican teacher to convince students to get an education and stay in the country. It is disheartening to see a student go through many hardships to get an education here in Mexico and become a professional, and then later in the United States do manual labor. Sometimes those with an education are working side by side with others who do not even know how to read."
This is an era of indigenous migration, when the numbers of migrants from communities and cultures which long predated Columbus, have now swelled to become the majority of people working in the fields. While dispersed inside Mexico and the U.S. as a result of migration, the movement of people has created, in a sense, one larger community, located in many places simultaneously. Settlements of Triquis, Mixtecs, Chatinos and other indigenous groups are bound together by shared culture and language, and the social organizations people bring with them from place to place.
At first glance, they seem to be living in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable. But these communities have strong cultural bonds holding people together, creating a support network that provides food and companionship for migrants just arriving from the south, with no work and no money.
Near Sebastopol, a community of Chatinos takes shelter under blue tarps, strung from tree to tree, setting mattresses on shipping pallets, to keep blankets and clothing out of the dirt. In the nearby town of Graton they stand on the sidewalk in front of little bookstores and cafes, hoping a labor contractor will pick them up for a day’s work on a neighboring farm.
Purepecha migrants from the Mexican state of Michoacan make up the majority of the hundreds of families living in two enormous trailer parks, on a US Indian reservation in the remote desert near the Salton Sea. The Coachella Valley's rich citrus, grape and date crops all depend on their work. Migrants living near Del Mar, one of San Diego's most affluent suburbs, harvest tomatoes, strawberries, oranges and avocados, the county's principal crops. Formerly they camped under the trees on hillsides within sight of new housing developments. Last year their settlement was forcibly removed after the Minutemen destroyed an altar built by the workers for the Catholic mass. County authorities then evicted the community.
Just as this San Diego community was moved out of sight and out of mind, so the communities of indigenous migrant farm workers all over California have been banished from sight. Sometimes invisibility has been forced on them. But often it has been by choice or caution on the part of migrants themselves, anxious to avoid hostile neighbors, the authorities, or other threatening outsiders. Living Under the Trees seeks to document the experiences and conditions of indigenous farm worker communities, including: housing problems, especially for migrants and new arrivals and families struggling with lack of space, and difficult working conditions. The project's purpose is to win public support for policies supporting those communities by: putting a human face on conditions, and providing a forum in which people speak for themselves. It focuses on the social movements in indigenous communities, and the way indigenous culture helps communities survive and enjoy life.
The communities documented are locacted in San Diego, Coachella, Arvin, Oxnard and Santa Paula, Santa Maria, Fresno and Selma, Salinas and Greenfield, and Santa Rosa. They include Mixtecos, Triquis, Zapotecos, Chatinos, and Purepechas. They also include farmworkers who don’t self-identify as members of indigenous communities, but who live and work in similar conditions.
The photographs focus on the relationship between community residents and their surroundings, and their relations with each other. They document many aspects of community life, including cooking and eating, housing, working conditions, social and cultural activities. They present situations of extreme poverty, but they also present people as actors, capable of changing conditions, organizing themselves, and making critical decisions. The images seek to convey a sense of intimacy, and emotional connection.
The project is a partnership between David Bacon, documentary photographer and journalist (The Children of NAFTA, UC Press, 2004, and Communities Without Border, Cornell/ILR Press, 2006), California Rural Legal Assistance, especially its Indigenous Farm Worker Project, and the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations (FIOB).